“Who Do You Think You Are?”: Sean Hayes Discovers His Irish Family History

By Diane Haddad

Get a recap of actor Sean Hayes’ search for his Irish roots—as well as tips about the records he discovered along the way—from this “Who Do You Think You Are?” recap by guest blogger Sunny Jane Morton:

I lost count of how many times Sean Hayes’ jaw dropped during last night’s episode of “Who Do You Think You Are?” After a certain point, he just had to laugh as he learned more of the sad twists and turns in his family history.

His story starts close to home, with a father who dropped out of his own life. Hayes wondered what led his father to that decision. Research confirms old gossip that his father was placed in an orphanage as a child, after Hayes’ grandmother had hip surgery and his grandfather disappeared from the picture.

Chicago documents trace Hayes’ grandfather as a young man to a slum known to house men who were down on their luck. Medical records were a surprising and interesting find; these often are either lost or privacy-protected. They hint at alcoholism and estrangement from his family. The grandfather’s story ends with a death certificate at age 40. But it gives his father’s name, and the story continues back in time.

Hayes gets to open the original naturalization books for his great-grandfather Patrick Hayes, Jr., which lead to more records overseas: Irish prison ledgers. The free has a searchable index of Irish Prison Registers, 1790-1924. If you’re using the site at a FamilySearch Center (or if you’re a member of the LDS church with a Findmypast login), you also click to see the record image for free. You also can search these Irish prison registers and and view record images with a subscription to

Here he finds Great-grandpa Hayes jailed a few times. One conviction was eyebrow-raising: Patrick Jr. and his brother were jointly prosecuted for attacking their father, Patrick Sr. The final jail sentence ended just before the younger Patrick hopped a ship to the United States.

The story of Patrick Sr., Sean Hayes’ great-great-grandfather, is spelled out in a long list of convictions over a 50-year span. During a period of relative calm, Patrick Sr. married and started a family. But a persistent streak of drunk-and-disorderlies follows in the wake of his wife’s death, when Patrick Jr. was about 10 years old.

“There’s definitely a cycle,” Hayes concludes of fatherly behavior patterns in his family. “It doesn’t excuse their behavior, but you kind of understand why. You have to have compassion.”

Got Irish roots like Sean? Pick up a copy of the excellent guide Tracing Your Irish Ancestors by John Grenham, available in Family Tree Shop.